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What You Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act and Discrimination

Posted by Jane F. Bolin, Esq. | Dec 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and real estate transactions. Here's everything you need to know for your association.

Whether you're managing an association or serving as a board member, it's crucial that you stay aware of changing laws and regulations around housing. Otherwise, the association could be at risk for complaints, conflicts, or lawsuits, all of which can be expensive and damaging for the community.

The federal Fair Housing Act, first created in 1968, focuses on housing and real estate discrimination in an attempt to ensure that every person has equal access. This act put laws in place that directly impact condo associations and homeowners' associations.

So, what does the Fair Housing Act cover? And how does it relate to your association? 

Key takeaways:

  • Explanation of the Fair Housing Act
  • Key points your association must consider:
    • Disability considerations
    • Familial status issues
    • Discriminating when screening
    • Why it's important to get legal help

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act was part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The law prohibits discrimination in housing and in real estate transactions based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status. Landlords, home sellers, insurance agents, realtors, and others involved in these transactions cannot: 

  • Deny people housing because of these factors
  • Advertise in a discriminating manner
  • Deny access to a real estate broker's organization
  • Discriminate in providing loans for real estate

The law also prohibits communities from adopting and enforcing zoning and land use ordinances that are discriminatory in nature.

What the FHA means for associations

In addition to ensuring that there is no discrimination in renting or selling property to residents within the community, there are a few other points to be aware of in the Act. 

The Fair Housing Act specifies that homeowner associations and boards cannot refuse modification requests for residents with disabilities at their own expense. They also can't refuse to make reasonable accommodations for these individuals so they can fully enjoy their homes, as long as these accommodations don't interfere with other residents' rights.

One example of a common accommodation an association must make is changing a parking rule for easier access to the home, or allowing a service or emotional support animal as a pet in an otherwise pet-free community. Sometimes modifications need to be made to common spaces so those with a disability can have easier access or assistance.

Another important note for associations is the act's protection of familial status, which means that the association cannot discriminate based on age or against children or families. You cannot restrict the use of common facilities to exclude children or families with children, for example. 

One example, as outlined on the Homeowners Protection Bureau website, is with swimming pools or recreational facilities. Instead of restricting access by age, you could implement a height restriction for safety or other purposes. This kind of restriction will likely be more compliant than age.

And of course, another form of discrimination that's prohibited by the Fair Housing Act is based on the protected classes mentioned above — race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and age — in addition to disability or familial status. If you have a process in place to screen residents, you must be very careful about refusing applications. You may want to put a process in place where you don't refuse any applications at all unless you've consulted with a legal professional first. 

These issues particularly related to familial discrimination and disabilities are some of the most common lawsuits for condo associations and homeowners' associations. Violation penalties can be extremely steep, not to mention the potential legal costs and repercussions.

It's important to fully understand the Fair Housing Act and incorporate laws into your association's policies and practices. Show your commitment to following the regulations by being transparent about your processes for creating policies and approving residents. 

Work with an attorney at PeytonBolin

When you're trying to navigate housing laws, including the Fair Housing Act, and set the right policies for your association, it can be challenging to know where to start or if you're covering all your bases. This is where legal help is a must. 

The team of board-certified attorneys at PeytonBolin is ready to help. We are a full-service real estate law firm focusing on everything from transactions to litigation to HOA and condo association law. We'll review your governing documents and policies and explain your legal obligations as an association manager or governing board. It's never worth the risk of a lawsuit, so get the help you need to protect the community. 

Contact the team at PeytonBolin to get started with any questions or issues you're facing.

About the Author

Jane F. Bolin, Esq.

Founding Member, Managing Partner


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